Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

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Trahant Reports

The flurry that is the Trump Administration continues to impact Indian Country in ways that are expected — as well as those that surprise. A nasty surprise at that.

The latest offering is a presidential signing statement that targets federal programs that serve American Indians, Alaska Natives, as well as those that fund historically black colleges. Because this statement is attached to the spending bill that just passed Congress, H.R. 244, it gives the Trump Administration legal cover to cancel grants and funding streams already in motion.

Here is the language from the White House:

My Administration shall treat provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender (e.g., Division B, under the heading “Minority Business Development”; Division C, sections 8016, 8021, 8038, and 8042; Division H, under the headings “Departmental Management Salaries and Expenses,” “School Improvement Programs,” and “Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Program Account”; Division K, under the heading “Native American Housing Block Grants”; and Division K, section 213) in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

In other words the Trump Administration doesn’t want to spend money on Native American housing block grants or on HBCUs. (And that makes me wonder, are tribal colleges next?) The spending bill included some $654 million for tribal housing programs.

Will the Trump Administration spend the money that’s appropriated?  That’s now a real question. The signing statement is a serious threat to appropriations for this year.

Presidential signing statements are extra-legal authority. No. That’s not right either. The American Bar Association said in 2006 that this process undermines the law. It’s an invention says a president knows more than Congress. Signing statements have been around since James Monroe. But, according to the American Presidency Project, Andrew Jackson was a fan. “In May 1830, Andrew Jackson wrote an message to the House stating his understanding of the limits of an appropriation:  “the phraseology of the section which appropriates the sum of $8,000 for the road from Detroit to Chicago may be construed to authorize the application of the appropriation for the continuance of the road beyond the limits of the Territory of Michigan, I desire to be understood as having approved this bill with the understanding that the road authorized by this section is not to be extended beyond the limits of the said Territory.”

The Trump White House is eager to destroy the federal government as it exists now. And this signing statement is a sneak attack. — Mark Trahant

 

 

4 thoughts on “Trump ‘signing’ statement; risks funding for all tribal housing block grants

  1. Darren Benjamin says:

    Mr. Trahant,

    Kudos for the eagle eye on the president’s signing statement. I saw it late last night and had a similar reaction, and made a note to dig into this when I get back to the office.

    But you failed to make the point that most (if not all?) programs for American Indians and Alaska Natives are not race- or ethnicity-based. Rather, they are based on the political distinction of being an enrolled member of a federally recognized Tribe.

    As you know, the Supreme Court has upheld the unique status that the United States holds as trustee of sovereign tribal nations within its borders. This status and responsibility as trustee includes providing federal funding and programs that were guaranteed first in treaties and later in statutes.

    Whether or not the housing program is a politically-based program I do not know, but I intend to find out. Other programs like health care certainly are. So there’s no need to assume or to imply that the administration is out to get all other AI/AN programs.

    Thank you for flagging the issue. Let’s get the facts before mounting a response.

    Regards,
    Darren Benjamin

    1. Mark Trahant says:

      Thank you, Darren Benjamin. I agree. I’ll follow up but I wanted to know more about the legal thinking behind the signing statement first. Mark

  2. Nicky Michael says:

    Sorry to say, while it may seem a sneak attack, this issue has been brewing since ICWA went to SCOTUS. Nonetheless, it’s deplorable and is a step further towards terminating the Trust relationship.

  3. Tina Johnson says:

    When will the Native/ Indigenous peoples treaties and rights going to be honored? Why are we always beat upon?

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